Cats and Theories
a blog by coticheque
a blog by coticheque

Random travel observations

In June I have experienced a relatively large amount of traveling (well, anything would be considered large compared to the zero trips taken in the previous 6 months!). As we all know, traveling is suffering, so here’re some rants, complaints and other mildly-interesting thoughts conceived throughout its process.

Public space reforms
On the train from Prague to Vienna, 6th of June

Have you ever noticed that a substantial proportion of people around are just batshit insane? Absolutely unfitted to live in a society. This night a weirdo from the downstairs apartment decided to play generic jazz tunes in his kitchen at midnight. And he had already been previously asked not to play online lectures at the full volume of his stereo system. Apparently, people cannot wrap their mind around the idea that their apartment is not an isolated unit floating in vacuum – but a small cell surrounded by dozens of other flats separated by disloyally thin walls and floors. Or here’s another story.

Riding first class of the Czech railways is relatively affordable, and the extra cost is usually well worth it – as it gives you a chance to escape all marginal men smelling of sweat and cigarettes, villagy women talking on their phones for hours, unbothered people watching movies on their tablets without headphones, loud school kids, and whatever other ill-mannered social groups are prevailing in unsophisticated Czech society.

Anyway, not today. During today’s ride the train car was exposed to a 2-hour-long monologue of a girl who met a random guy on the train, and decided to enlighten him on the details of her entire biography over one train ride. She moved to New York at the age of 17 to study international relations, but left the college after one year. Now she’s studying business marketing in Brno. She has a natural talent for languages, speaking French and Arabic. She’s 31, but people give her maximum 27. Her mother has been to Kenya.

Okay, that doesn’t sound particularly marginal or vulgar, but how come people live under a false assumption that others give a full consent to listening to the condensed flow of their personal life details for hours – informational gibberish that there’s no escape from! Speech in foreign languages is at least easier to tolerate, when you don’t understand its meaning. There’s no escape from the English speech though, and you have no choice but to have your mind focus on the auditory rubbish abusing the air of communal space for hours.

We urgently need a set of public space reforms that would stop people from inconsiderate playing of jazz or unsolicited sharing of their biographies in public.

The unintended consequences
Vienna Hauptbahnhof, 17th of June

First thing you notice when arriving to Vienna from Prague is how western everything looks. Appearance of people, architecture, graphic design of street signage. A train ride of only 350 km transports you to a completely different world, from Eastern to Western Europe. How come the two countries have become so different over the course of only 2 generations, both belonging to the same Austro-Hungarian empire just a hundred of years ago?

Well, being a part of the German Reich, Austria lost the Second World War and went under the occupation of the Allies, United States being its most influential member. On the opposite, Czech Republic resisted the Nazi annexation, and later on it went under the influence of the Soviet block. Now, it’s still bearing the consequences of Soviet heritage. Apparently, in the long run, it sometimes turns out to be more beneficial to be on the side of the losers.

And how bad is the damage? Prague looks like a provincial Russian town stuck in development as of 20 years ago. Overweight middle-aged women with shortly-cut hair of unnatural red color wearing flower-patterned midi-dresses and supermarket plastic bags showing the signs of reuse. Red-skinned men in knee-length shorts, with ankle-high socks and cross-body leather bags carrying 1,5-liter beer bottles. 90s style businesses and department stores, brightly-colored panel houses, unorganized parking. You cannot expect to see such stuff in Vienna. Not even in present-day Moscow.

Usually I cannot relate much to the left-wing discourse, but witnessing all horrors of the Soviet heritage makes me feel collective guilt for what Russia has done to the post-war Eastern Europe.

Commercial aviation
On the plane from Madrid, 29th of June

The most annoying thing in the world is the aggressive in-flight retail on board of commercial airlines. The dense stream of insufferable auditorial abuse that the passengers have to endure throughout the flights, having to withstand a never-ending stream of questionable commercial offers. Ralph Lauren perfume at the amazing price of 39 euros. Shiny oil with a tropical aroma by Carolina Herrera. An unprecedented deal: a combo of one panini and a soft drink that will save you 2 euros.

Has anyone on Earth ever got a sudden weird idea to purchase perfume on board of the plane, when a much larger variety of items is available in every other store 24/7 – take for instance numerous Duty Free shops that will undoubtedly be encountered in numerous quantities upon arrival. Nevertheless, low-cost airlines choose to abuse passengers trapped inside their planes who have no chance to escape from the stream of ads.

I think one of the explanations why this practice doesn’t go away is that deep down people are comforted by the familiar environment of aggressive retail. The background noise of ads and sales offers is something familiar and understandable. Much more understandable than the humming noise of jet engines and the fluctuations of air flows shaking a rattling metal container at the height of 10,000 meters. Surrounded by tons of explosive jet fuel, kilograms of fragile machinery, hydraulic liquid in invisible tubes, flaps and slats on the shaky wings. Sophisticated machinery miraculously functioning and making the heavy-weight plane stay afloat despite all odds.

Facing this awful thought can be truly terrifying. Perhaps the distraction in the form of discounted Ralph Lauren perfume sales offers is psychologically needed.

The pendulum of life
On the bus to Panov, a Czech village destroyed by a tornado, 30th of June

In Prague we have a hill that used to accommodate the biggest statue of Stalin in the world. It was later demolished and replaced by another construction – a giant metronome with a long metal arrow steadily swinging from one side to another, regardless of the weather and time of the year. It’s calming to watch its steady movement.

The metronome is a good metaphor of the life itself: the states of it vary, going form one excess to another. Any effort to put life in a strict order usually reverts into chaos. Which in turn reverts back to stability.

It’s hard to maintain a strict discipline over extended periods of time, as it’s against the chaotic human nature. Despite the comfort and stability, the prolonged routine usually gets boring to the maddening extent. That’s why the ongoing pandemic, with its quarantine, closed borders and the ban on traveling had an impact on psychological state of so many people. When there’s nothing to expect and no events to look forward to, the life often becomes unbearable.

Same way, it’s equally hard to find satisfaction in life with no structure and no order. Traveling for more than a week results in increased levels of suffering. Unfamiliar apartments in noisy neighborhoods, chaotic places, unironed clothes, sticky hands and burnt skin, stressful relocations with heavy luggage in unbearable weather. All of that makes you miss the comfort of the home routine. For instance, a never-failing rule of thumb, at least according to my own experience, is that during every trip there’s a 99% chance that you’ll find yourself carrying a heavy suitcase on the side of a busy highway under the burning sun for at least a couple hundred meters. That makes the idea of home seem even more desirable. But I know that I’ll get home and get bored in 2 weeks.

So comfort is needed, but never for too long – it’s always a swing from one state to another. Commodity markets are often subject to a phenomenon called the mean-reversion. So is life. The human task is to accept the swings of this pendulum.

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